The 2000 yard Competitions

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Written by: David Minshall

In 1865 the NRA(GB) instigated the first of two competitions held at the extreme range of 2000 yards. They were fired with muzzle loading rifles at Gravesend in 1865 and 1866 and were for rifles not exceeding 15lbs. in weight, with any description of sights. Rests, other than mechanical ones, were permitted.

The target was constructed of ½” planking and in 1866 was 24 feet long by 18 feet high (1865, 24 feet long and 12 feet high) with a bull’s-eye 6 feet square, and a centre 12 feet square. The bull’s-eye counted 4, centre 3, and outer 2.

The following information published in The Engineer, 2 June 1865, summarises the background.

THE FIFTEEN POUNDS RIFLES – In 1864 the council of the National Rifle Association offered a prize to be competed for at 2,000 yards distance with rifles of 15lb weight, with telescopes attached, and firing percussion shells as well as bullets. At one of the general meetings of the Association the reasons for offering the prize were thus given: – “We have heard that in the Confederate states rifles of considerable weight, to which two men are attached, one carrying the rifle and the other the kit, have been doing, with telescope sights, extraordinary execution against artillery at 2,000 yards; the Council have therefore resolved to give notice of a prize for competition with rifles of any bore at 2,000 yards, with telescope sights, the weight of the rifle being 15lb. Mr. Rigby and Mr. Whitworth think that with a limit of 15lb rifles may be got from which leaden shells like Metford’s and Norton’s might be fired, and which, with telescope sights, will shoot as accurately at 2,000 yards as a 10lb rifle at 1,000 yards. A corps armed with such rifles would be a most formidable body for ant artillery to contend with.”

On 26 May 1865 Colonel Halford and Mr. William Metford were the only competitors, each firing the same muzzle-loading rifle, designed by Mr. Metford and manufactured by George Gibbs. After drawing on a score of 22 in 25 shots, Colonel Halford won the tie shooting.

The following year there were five competitors, but only two designs of rifle. Four competitors used Metford rifles fitted with telescope sights. There were two of these rifles, each rifle fired by two competitors alternately. The other rifle was designed by Mr. Murcott of London. This was withdrawn during the competition, having failed to have hit the target. Colonel Halford made use of a rest, the remainder firing in various positions. The match was won by Mr. J. Miller, of Bristol, who made 12 hits in the 20 shots, scoring 37; Colonel Halford was second, with 36 in 14 hits. All the misses, with few exceptions, were to the right or left; very few fell short, and those were all within a few yards of the target.

According to Humphry and Freemantle’s ‘History of the National Rifle Association’ the competitions were not continued “in view of the subject generally being taken up by the War Office.”

Of these rifles Col. Halford’s is in the NRA(UK) museum at Bisley and that owned by Mr. Metford is in the Royal Armouries at Leeds.

Following is a contemporary report of the first of these competitions:


When the carabine à tige and the Minie rifles came into use, the cumbrous rampart musket was cast aside its range being considerably excelled by that the former; yet there was no reason why it should have been improved upon, so as to keep ahead of the new rifle as it had surpassed the old smooth-bores of the infantry. That some such improvement would have been found necessary we cannot for a moment doubt, had the Emperor continued his operations in Venetia. As it was, such a necessity had no time to make itself felt amongst European armies, and so the Confederate have reaped the credit of bringing this class of arms once more into use, since it in in their ranks, under the pressure of circumstances which needed the utmost possible help that science and ingenuity could suggest, that they have been revived. But they have not been retained in their former state; on the contrary, all the additions and changes have been made that the progress of the last few years could suggest, and thus it has been possible to harass camps, annoy batteries, pick off officers, and explode caissons at no less a range than 2,000 yards.

The Council of the National Rifle Association, having been informed of these facts some time last year, soon appreciated the importance of promoting the study and manufacture of weapons fit for the work alleged be done by those resorted to amongst the Confederates. Consequently, acting in accordance with this patriotic feeling, they decided to offer a prize to be competed for 2,000 yards’ distance, limiting the weight the rifles to 15 lbs. The rifles were to have telescopes attached to them, and were to fire percussion shells as well as bullets. If the council do thereby succeed in calling into existence this special sort of firearms, and, moreover, in awakening taste for competitions and practice with these ponderous barrels, they certainly will have added one more claim to the many they already possess on the satisfaction of the country.

The competition for the prize thus offered came off on Friday at the Gravesend ranges. The day was remarkably clear, but the mirage in the earlier part of the forenoon was very considerable, while the wind, gradually increasing in intensity, soon made its influence perceptible on the regularity and accuracy of the practice. At 2,000 yards’ distance a target measuring twenty-four feet in length by twelve in height had been raised, the bull’s eye being sufficiently large to be easily discernible even at that distance. Only two competitors, Lieut.-Colonel Halford and Mr. Metford, and only one rifle, invented by the last-mentioned gentleman, entered the lists. Five trial shots were allowed, while twenty-five were assigned to the competition itself, each party going through his rounds uninterruptedly, beginning with Mr Metford, the loading of the rifle being performed by the other competitor. Unfortunately, there was no great concourse of spectators. Lady Elcho, however, graced the assemblage with her presence.

Out of the 25 competitive rounds Metford made eight hits, giving 22 marks: curiously enough, the result of Lieut-Colonel Halford’s firing was exactly the same, viz., 8 hits and 22 marks. Ultimately the prize was carried off by Col. Halford. The hits were most of them at good height for execution; while the shots that went over, and those that did the same after ricochet, would in all probability have been fair hits had the targets been 24 feet high. Had the target been reduced to the height of a man on horseback, the execution would still nave been extremely satisfactory. Mr Rigby, who was on the ground with one of his rifles, had a few trial shots at 2,000 yards, with a very imperfect light. Nevertheless the line of fire was very good, the shots, most times, going over the target. It appeared evident that a rifle on Mr Rigby’s system, if carried up to 12lbs in weight and fired with 4 drachms, would be capable of making admirable practice, considering the distance and the consequent increase of error.

The rifle fired with by Mr Metford weighed 16lbs, including the telescope, which measures 18 inches in length, has an objective glass half an inch in diameter, with cross wires, and is firmly affixed to the left side of the barrel. Aim is taken through the telescope with remarkable ease. The barrel is 40 inches long, 0.5 inch calibre. It fires 5 drachms of powder, and propels the ball, which is 1.8 inches long, with an initial velocity equal to 1,470 feet per second. The recoil certainly looked severe, particularly as the gun was fired without rest; but the loading was so easy that the rounds were fired at a rate of less than three minutes each. As a first experiment, without fixed rest the results that have attended it may fairly be considered highly satisfactory. They indicate, however, the necessity of breech-loading, and show the possibility of attaining equally good results under easier and more acceptable conditions as to weight.

Western Daily Press – Monday 29 May 1865